Jason Fochtman, Staff Photographer
Elijah Easley, chairman of the Tamina Cemetery Project
Community Development Corporation, wades through the
flooded Sweetrest Cemetery, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in
the historic Tamina community. The 12-acre cemetery is
the resting place for approximately 261 members of the
founding Montgomery County community founded by freed
slaves near The Woodlands
Beneath ice, mud and at least a
foot of water, the headstones of former slaves, native
Americans, veterans, law enforcement officials and
original settlers of the Tamina community peeked through
the surface of the now-submerged Sweet Rest Cemetery
"It literally brings tears to my eyes to see this
condition in 2018 as if it was 1918," said 52-year-old
Tamina resident Elijah Easley as he waded through the
cold, murky water and growth where his father, mother
and maternal grandparents and great grandparents were
laid to rest.
Jason Fochtman, Staff Photographer
A headstone is seen partially submerged
by water in Sweet Rest Cemetery, Saturday, Jan. 13,
2018, in the historic Tamina community.
Easley's family is among an estimated 261 buried in
graves now covered in water. The grave sites date back
to 1870, including those of Tamina's founding fathers,
such as Easley's grandfather, Romie Hollins Sr., whose
names can be found on street signs of the post-Civil War
Freedman's settlement. Tamina's history can be traced
back to R. B. Smith, an educator from the city of
Montgomery, and John Nilor, a Houston-area businessman;
and to 1871 when freed slaves who had moved to the area
helped build the railroad in the area. Many past Tamina
residents worked for the Grogan's Mill.
For the past 10 years, the roughly 12-acre cemetery,
which does not have an owner, has been left dormant and
exposed to the elements without a caretaker aside from
the occasional volunteers who try to help. Some of the
graves are inaccessible due to the standing water and
grassy growth, which Easley believes may be because the
natural water flow has been blocked on various sides.
An effort to save the cemetery came to light after the
tragic loss of 13-year-old Terrance "TJ" Mitchell,
6-year-old Kaila Mitchell and 5-year-old Kyle Mitchell
in a nearby fatal house fire before sunrise May 12,
According to family members who survived the tragic
blaze, the children's grandfather and pastor of Thergood
Memorial Church of God in Christ in Willis, Bobby
Johnson Jr., broke out a second floor window of his home
and was able to get most of the family out, but they
were unable to get through the flames to save the
children, who were trapped in their bedroom on the other
side of the second floor.
The 59-year-old Johnson, his wife, 65-year-old Carrie,
and their son, 34-year-old Jarvis Johnson, were all hurt
in the desperate rescue attempt, although they were able
to save a fourth child, Adrian. The Johnsons are
descendants of an original settler of Tamina and lived
on a road named for one of their ancestors.
The late Mitchell children have several family members
buried in Sweet Rest Cemetery; however, no one has been
laid to rest in the cemetery for nearly a decade due to
the poor conditions.
Easley is the board chairman of a new nonprofit called
the Tamina Cemetery Project Community Development
Corporation, which includes other relatives of the
Mitchell children on the board. The corporation is
comprised of descendants from Tamina's forefathers,
churches, and other members of the community and even
some members who are from outside the community, such as
the Chair Lady for Hundred Hands Alliance Georgia
"We have (descendants) of forefathers that are here in
this community some 90 almost 100 years old that would
have a desire to be buried here but they can't be
because of these current conditions," Easley said. "If
we can get that corrected, I have an uncle (Romie
Hollins Jr.) who's 88 years old whose father is one of
the founding fathers of this community, the Hollins
family. I know if my uncle was given the opportunity, he
would care to be buried there."
The 501(C)3 nonprofit, which began meeting three to five
months ago, is on a mission to collaborate with elected
officials, community leaders and others to fix the
"It's about honoring our ancestors," board treasurer
Victor Harris, 34, said. "It's about honoring our
Community leaders believe drainage and environmental
issues are contributing to the flooded cemetery, which
still has not recovered from the rainfall during
Hurricane Harvey's storms in late August.
"I don't even know where Uncle Will is at," said
advisory board member Vanesta Davis, 55, as she pushed
through mud. "It's because they covered up the lake. The
natural water flow has been disrupted."
Easley and board members are asking for support,
including from the county.
Advisory board member James Leveston, 75, said the board
feels like the county should put a lot of attention to
this project because they believe illegal dumping is a
cause of the environment issues.
During the Montgomery County Eagle Forum with Precinct 4
Commissioner candidates Jim Clark and challenger Bob
Bagley in Shenandoah Thursday, the board members and
several Tamina residents discussed the cemetery with the
Easley said he felt there was a genuine response from
the community, nonresidents of Tamina and both
candidates in attendance (candidate James Metts did not
attend the forum).
"The candidates committed to assist the civic and
humanitarian cause, not with taxpayer dollars, but with
their time and talent," Easley said.
The board also has an interest in connecting with the
Texas A&M Army Corps of Engineers as the first step to
solving the drainage problem.
"This is our start," Vanesta Davis said. "First, last
and everything. We want to pass this on to future
generations. We want this to be something to be proud of
not to have this go on and keep repeating itself."
donations can be mailed to the new nonprofit at the
following address: The Tamina Cemetery and Community
Project CDC at 29526 Legends Line Drive, Spring, TX
77386. For more information, contact Elijah Easley at Easley.firstname.lastname@example.org